A painting of a masked man by top Chinese contemporary artist Zeng Fanzhi that Emmy-award winner Lawrence Schiller and his wife bought three years ago for $500,000 fetched five times more at a packed Hong Kong art sale.
Zeng’s depiction of a man with slicked, black hair and outsized hands sold for HK$19.7 million ($2.5 million), twice the presale top estimate, at Christie’s International’s evening sale of Asian art yesterday after a 2-minute tug-of-war among salesroom and phone bidders. The Schillers had bought the oil painting from an American private collector and hung it in the den of their Santa Barbara, California, home before the sale.
“It was a great investment,” Kathy Schiller, Lawrence’s wife, said in an interview at the sale. “It’s also a great painting that we love and we’re sorry to have to sell it.”
Competition for the 2-meter-long (6.5 feet) work, called “Mask Series,” was one of the highlights at Christie’s sold- out auction of 36 Chinese, South Korean and Japanese artworks that fetched a combined HK$303.4 million. Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese buyers placed the strongest bids for works by Chen Yifei, Zao Wou-ki, Zeng and Zhang Xiaogang, a sign Asia’s rich are buying important pieces by established artists to hedge against inflation and financial-market volatility.
The presale estimates don’t include commission, that is 25 percent of the first HK$400,000 of hammer price, then falls to 20 percent for amounts as much as HK$8 million and is 12 percent for prices exceeding that.
The Schillers said they will donate $100,000 from the sale to the Animals Asia Foundation to help save moon bears in China.
Chen’s oil painting of a string quartet fetched the evening’s top price of HK$61 million, a record for the artist, who died in 2005. Christie’s declined to identify the buyer. Bidding was the fiercest since Christie’s May 2008 sale, four months before the start of the financial crisis when Zeng’s painting of China’s Red Guards fetched a contemporary Asian art record of HK$75.4 million.
“This painting by Chen is one of his most important and the only one in private hands. It’s no surprise so many people want it,” said Eric Huang, a Taipei-based buyer and dealer who bought Zao paintings at previous auctions.
Works by Paris-based abstract artist Zao, the most valuable Chinese artist at auction, remain popular with two paintings fetching HK$20.8 million each.
Christie’s also held its wine auction, tallying HK$40 million. The highlight of that event was the sale of 128 bottles and 40 magnums of Chateau d’Yquem spanning three centuries, which sold for HK$8 million to a European collector, making it the most expensive wine lot sold at Christie’s.
The six-day auction continues today with the sale of Southeast Asian paintings and more contemporary Asian art.